Northern Ireland’s Child Support Agency has a gross debt of £82.6m, the annual report from the Northern Ireland Audit Office reveals. Of this, £35.7m is collectable, believes the NIAO.
But the NIAO is concerned that the collectable debt figure is rising annually and increased from £29.9m the previous year, 2006/7. The NIAO is also concerned that the Child Support Agency has set debt collection targets that are not sufficiently challenging.
The Agency’s Client Fund Accounts were qualified as the debt figures were not supported by adequate documentation and have been qualified every year since the Agency was established in 1993. The Agency was wound-up at the end of March 2008 and replaced by Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division of the Department for Social Development.
John Dowdall, the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland, also expressed concern at the growing arrears of unpaid rates, which rose from £88m at the end of the 2006/7 year to £124m at March 2008. The failure to collect more arrears and delays in sending out rates bills on vacant properties is increasing the financial burden on public bodies and on taxpayers, he said.
Other criticisms in Dowdall’s report included delayed bill paying by education bodies; the slow rate of inspections of housing associations; and serious weaknesses in procurement procedures across a range of government departments. Failures to comply with departments’ own procurement rules led to legal challenges to the awards of contracts.